Where to start in the private investigation industry.

I was recently asked if I could shed some light on the inside workings of the private investigation industry. Apparently, areas of training and work experience opportunities are not well known and are of interest to people. 

So, where to start. 

I guess training is a good place. Most people need training upon entering the private investigation industry. 

There are a number of providers who conduct training. Generally speaking, the first step is to obtain a Certificate III in Investigation Services. (People with Police, Military, or other relevant backgrounds may be able to obtain some recognition of prior learning for parts, or all of, the Cert III).  Whilst this course may give you a very basic understanding of the theoretical aspects of industry, you will not be able to obtain good working-level knowledge until you get started. I am not going to recommend any particular provider, they are easy to find if you really want to be an investigator.

After you obtain the Certificate III I would recommend trying to contact investigators and ask to spend a few days with them. The purpose of this step is to see which areas of the industry you like the best. There are a number of areas which you can specialise in, such as, but not limited to surveillance, circumstance/factual investigations, process serving, and skip tracing (finding people). Most PIs aren't generalists. They specialise in one or two areas and tend to focus on developing their abilities in those areas. (See my previous blogs about licensing requirements in NSW and VIC).

After you decide the areas in which you want to work the next step is to compile your resume and start sending them out to any investigation firms you can find. If you do not hold licenses which permit you to work for yourself you may need to work as an employee. Check your local police or department of fair trading websites for more information. It is also worth checking the licenses of the larger firms to ensure they hold the required licenses and you don't find yourself in a position where you are working for unreputable firms. 

Be prepared for rejection. There are two main reasons for this. As we stated in our blog from the 4th January, 2017, the industry is currently going through a very quiet period. As such, even the experienced investigators, especially in the eastern side of Australia, are finding regular work difficult to come by. Secondly, PIs are naturally suspicious and protective of their "patch". Unless they run a large investigative firm they may not see the sense in training you, as you will become a threat to their client base and income.

If you manage to locate a large firm willing to take you on you need to be prepared to accept a relatively low rate of pay. I regard a "low rate of pay" as being $25 dollars per hour as a casual. Firms rarely take on full-time employees due to the low margins, lack of guaranteed stability, and expenses like sick leave, annual leave, superannuation, and work cover insurance. If you show you are capable and willing to learn, depending on the state in which you work, you may earn anything from $30 to $150 per hour. (Bear in mind the rates depend upon the type of job, the client type, your experience, and the speciality of the work).  

If you get a start you can choose to continually work for other larger firms who supply you work, or you can try to become an employee. If you choose to work for larger firms you will need to work for a varying number in order to obtain constant work. There are a number of firms around Australia who tender for work from government agencies and insurance companies. By working for a number of firms you spread yourself around and increase the chances of picking up work from different companies if one or two go quiet or lose tenders. 

Until last October/November, the industry had been providing regular work for five years. The job had been good and smaller firms were growing. Now, they smaller firms are falling away and the larger firms are reducing staffing levels. 

If you find your niche and are good at the services you provide, you should be able to obtain enough work to survive. I will not promise you will live in luxury, have plenty of work, or love your job every day. I cannot promise overtime payments, shift allowances, or public holiday rates as none of those exist in this industry. I cannot even promise you a full days work every day. If you go into surveillance for insurance companies and lose the subject an hour into your shift your income will also be lost until you return another day. We don't even have an independent, Private Investigator specific union or association which effectively battles for the rights of investigators on the street. They simply don't exist at this point in time.  

Knowing all this, and if you are willing to continue with your dream of becoming a private investigator, feel free to contact me and I will try to steer you in the right direction.